“That would have been a goal had it gone inside the post” – Michael Owen
Anybody lucky enough to have a BT Sport subscription will have heard one of these gems from Chester’s answer to Chekhov. For fairly inordinate amounts of money, ex-professionals (and taking nothing away from Owen, very successful ones) week in week out spout the same inane facts and rehashed analysis, to a public that seems to lap up this pub-conversation level insight, despite their frequent complaining. Why therefore, the question must be asked, do the viewing public put up with this ceaseless mundanity through their screens every weekend?
Perhaps it relates to the British taste for disdain and cynicism amalgamated with social media. Why have quality punditry when Savage et al provide a weekly dose of boredom which you can carthartically moan about? In the modern epoch, Robbie Savage’s tragic input does not live and die on the television screen, but spawns endless content: vines, memes and suchlike – the aforementioned Owen’s invaluable insights have even spawned their own Twitter account (@ObviousOwen.) But the real reason surely, is that punditry has ingrained itself within modern weekend tradition – its existence lies unquestioned as part of the Sunday routine. Along with the hangover, the rushed work, and the irreparable feeling of gloom that sets in at around 5pm after several hours slumped in front of the TV, lies Alan Smith and co. debating the merits of the zonal marking system. British punditry may no longer have a particular purpose to its existence, but its not going anywhere soon.
This is not to say that there aren’t genuinely interesting and insightful ex-professionals plying their trade on weekend afternoons. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher (the former especially) reveal some aspects of the game that the average viewer would not usually have access to – the relationship between Neville and Carragher is also an entertaining sibling-rivalry-esque affair. One should not fall into the obvious trap however, of believing that a player’s ability during his career corresponds with his ability off the field. Pat Nevin may have fulfilled the ‘fan favourite’ archetype, but he spent the twilight of his career at Tranmere Rovers and Kilmarnock – despite this, he is in the upper echelon of pundits. And whilst spending most of his existence trying to embody an extra from Only Fools and Horses, Jamie Redknapp provides some reasonably decent analysis along with an impressive set of cheekbones – in contrast to his father, who appears to resemble a scrotum more and more every year.
Undoubtedly, it is perhaps more fun to lament the paucity of quality content in the football world, and therefore it is to the doldrums that we shall now turn. Roy Keane, formerly the angriest man in football, now unsurprisingly plies his trade as a professional doommongerer, casting doubt on even the most impressive of perfomances. Robbie Savage perhaps comes off the worst of them all, offering the sort of comments that would count as provocative if they weren’t so depressingly stupid and attention-seeking. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Alan Shearer, consistent in inflicting stultifying boredom on the paying public, media-trained down to the very last studio spotlight on his impossibly bald head. Andy Townsend, I have no words for you.
In light of this, it is certain that their is at least some merit, albeit a small one, to the existence of the pundit. Yes, their analysis may be shoddy, their haircuts may be tragic and their accents often inpenetrable. But punditry is just another part of the game that makes it the spectacle it is, making the departure from the boredom of daily existence 120 minutes long instead of 90. Maybe the inane ramblings of Savage are in fact the accompanying narrative to Britain’s Sunday escapism, rather than the musings of an ostentatious overpaid Welshman. So next time, before you can consider directing your ire towards Jermaine Jenas or Lee Dixon, consider if the game would really be the same without those who comment on it.